Elijah “Pumpsie” Green’s Baseball-reference page won’t garner any special attention. He won’t ever have his number on the right field facade at Fenway Park or a plaque in Cooperstown. After his death on Wednesday, however, there is something Green will always have. Pumpsie Green leaves a lasting legacy with the Boston Red Sox.
This Sunday, July 21, will mark the 60th anniversary of Green’s major league debut. Like the rest of his career, it was nothing special on the field. He came in to run for Vic Wertz in the eighth inning and finished the game at shortstop in a 2-1 loss to the eventual American League champion White Sox. Green had made his mark, however, as the first black player ever to play for the Red Sox.
Now often the answer to a trivia question Red Sox fans might like to forget, Green helped the Red Sox become the final MLB team to integrate. The Red Sox obviously didn’t have the most polished past when it comes to race relations. They did, in fact, pass up on Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson over a decade earlier. I don’t think it’s because they weren’t good enough. While Green’s debut came 18 months after Willie O’Ree broke the NHL color barrier for the Bruins, two other MLB teams integrated over 10 years after Jackie Robinson debuted for the Dodgers.
Green’s contributions to the sports landscape of Boston could not have come at a better time. The aforementioned O’Ree was a pioneer with the Bruins and the Celtics were beginning to spark a dynasty with notable black stars Sam Jones and Bill Russell. With the “old town team” being the last in the city to have a black player, it represented a crucial point for Boston to move forward in race relations, although it would take some time. Suddenly, pictures in the paper of the young shortstop talking with the great Ted Williams were easing the minds of Boston baseball fans.
Pumpsie Green After Baseball
After his brief career, he served as a baseball coach and teacher in Berkeley, California for 20 years. The Red Sox honored him by having him throwing out a first pitch in 2009 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of breaking the team’s color barrier. He threw out another first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day in 2012. To commemorate his achievement, the Red Sox enshrined him in their Hall of Fame last May. He was also honored in his adopted home of El Cerrito, California, for “distinguished stature in baseball history.”
Considering the love and adoration black sports stars in the city get today, it seems odd that a player such as Green would be the trailblazer. He played just four years in his major league career and hit a mere .246. In fact, his baseball-reference similarity score is akin to that of Blake Swihart’s. There would have still been a Jim Rice, a Pedro Martinez and a David Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform, but someone had to be the first.
What Green did was forage a relationship between black Bostonians and the city’s favorite team. Was he the greatest Red Sock of all time? No. Was he one of the most important? Yes. Even now that he is gone, the Green family and the Red Sox family can forever look back on that July afternoon at Comiskey Park and be proud. He was 85.